Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism

By Peter Hunt | Go to book overview
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Ideology

One of the most useful insights of modern criticism has been that no work, even the most apparently simple book for children, can be innocent of some ideological freight. As James Watson, a writer whose novels confront serious political issues, has observed: 'The dominant discourses of our time are rarely challenged, so much so that we are often in danger of forgetting that alternative discourses even exist' (Watson 1986:70).

In children's literature, where there is a very obvious power relationship between writer and reader, and where writers and publishers are constrained and influenced by many pressure groups, this is a particularly emotive issue. As a result, work in this area has tended to be polemic (Dixon 1977; Leeson 1985), or to address specific issues such as censorship or covert racialism (Moore and MacCann 1986). Theoretical explorations are rather rarer, and as late as 1985 it was possible for Children's Literature in Education to publish an essay on political ideologies in literature for children that began by spelling out what might now seem to be obvious.

Like other writers, authors of children's books are inescapably influenced by their views and assumptions when selecting what goes into the work (and what does not), when developing plot and character, determining the nature of conflicts and their resolutions, casting and depicting heroes and villains, evoking readers' emotional responses, eliciting readers' judgments, finding ways to illustrate their themes, and pointing morals. The books thus express their authors' personal ideologies (whether consciously or unconsciously, openly or indirectly). To publish books which express one's ideology is in essence to promulgate one's values. To promulgate one's values by sending a potentially influential book into public arenas already bristling with divergent, competing, and

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